WHOSE LIFE IS IT ANYWAY?
Euthanasia: a word that causes so much pain, anger, and controversy but is never truly explained to everyone. Some say it is contrary to the will of God, others vote that it is the laying to rest of one who is doomed. Whatever the circumstances, whatever the views, euthanasia can be clearly defined. Euthanasia comes from the Greek word, euthanatos, meaning literally “Good Death.” Euthanasia is not necessarily doctor-assisted suicide. It is not the cold, careless murder of an innocent who cannot fend for themselves. Rather, it is the caring and respectful response to a plea for help, an S.O.S. from the pain and anguish caused both by physical illness and the diminished spirit that cries for rest. Each of us want our end to be painless and peaceful, in the care of loved ones, spending our last moments in happiness. Euthanasia makes this possible for the terminally ill. Many would want to spend their last hours with their families, not dying in agony in a hospital bed, but in their home, reading a book perhaps, or just talking and cuddling with their loved ones. We have the right to choose, the right to make decisions for ourselves, and if they are wrong, the right to live with those decisions. Each person has the right to make their own decisions in how they live their life, and thus how and when they end that life, whether it be Euthanasia or not is irrelevant, it is their decision, their choice, their right.
“WHO’S LIFE IS IT ANYWAY?”
~ Sue Roderiguez, died 1993
The words of the late Sue Roderiguez, who was laid to rest by euthanasia in 1993 echo loudly as a constant reminder of the real issue here. “Who’s life is it anyway?” Simple, it is ours. It is the foundation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that each person has the right to choose for themselves . Section 2(b) states that we have the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, but the government denies us the right to express a “Good death” and die with dignity. Furthermore, section 7 prescribes that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person. These rights are violated when they take our security away by not allowing a person to decide what to do with their body themselves. Our liberty is taken away and we are denied our pleas for assistance to end the suffering. Our life is taken away as we lay helplessly in a cold, unfamiliar hospital bed, in constant pain, yet never truly conscious due to medication. The truth is the government is only causing damage to the patient in prolonging pain and suffering, violating section 12 of the Charter, the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual treatment or punishment. What kind of life is that? We must consider more than our beliefs in this situation, we must consider, with hearts open, the patient’s interests. A matter of months in a hospital bed, drugged to grogginess, with occasional visits from family, all alone waiting to die. What kind of life is that? When considering these problems, we must put ourselves in their place. Could any of us bear the torment they face?
The most heated argument regarding the rights of the patient has always come down to the age old question of God. The religious stance is that it is not for us to decide our fate, it is the will of God that will lead us to the end. This may be the truth for any persons of those religious faiths which deny euthanasia, but what about the millions of atheists and agnostics in Canada alone? Why are they being subjected to the same laws as others when they don’t even agree with the belief systems behind those laws? What society is saying is that the opinions of these people are unimportant in comparison with the beliefs of religious organizations and their euthanasia-hating brethren.
Suicide is not illegal in Canada, but euthanasia, defined by society as the suicide of a person with a terminal illness, is illegal. Why are the rights of chronically ill people being ignored? Why discriminate against those who are dying and need the relief euthanasia provides and not those who are in full health? The healthy have no need to end their lives, they feel no physical pain or shame. In the words of Ronald Dworkin, “Only individuals themselves can determine if and when euthanasia is ethical..” It isn’t our place to tell a person how to live, they must decide for themselves.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
Euthanasia is combated frequently with the stance of honor. There is no dignity in suicide, in running from the fight. Those who would preach this miss out on the whole idea of euthanasia. It is not meant as a quick fix to end the suffering when you are too scared to face life. No, it is the intelligent and caring thing to do, to spare your family the pain of seeing your health fade away, watching you slowly and painfully die, knowing there is nothing they can do to help. It is the honorable thing to do. It is the kind and caring thing to do. Leaving the family on a good note, leaving them with the memory of you as a strong and caring person, someone they can remember and smile at. Jo Roman, a terminal cancer sufferer, who died by euthanasia on June 10, 1979 summed up this point best with her words.
I knew from the outset that I would not subject myself nor those around me to the emotional strains and physical ravages of terminal cancer…I’d want to be able to enjoy and share the day with others.
Saving one’s own dignity by leaving life as they lived it and not as a weak and crippled body is very important to many. They would like to leave on a good note, without the pain and shame accompanying their illness. There is more to consider though. Those who wish to help society have done so by saving the health care system the money needed to prolong the life they don’t want anymore. The costs to the health care system for providing food, supplies, a room, and constant doctor and nurse support are large. As well, prescriptions and other supplies not covered by OHIP aren’t cheat. If the patient wants to stay at home regular visits from doctors also cost. In the end, the money spent to keep a person alive is not always easy to come up with and many would want to spare their family the financial burden that would last longer than they themselves do.
WHERE IS IT LEGAL?
Although euthanasia is not legally acceptable in Canada at this time, there are areas of the globe where it is clearly defined and legal, sometimes even commonplace. One such example is our neighbors to the south. In Oregon , the Death and Dignity Act outlines the conditions under which a patient make seek euthanasia, in this case doctor-assisted suicide. One very important detail is that the patient must be in full competence, or the family must decide. Only Oregon residents may seek this option as a solution, otherwise citizens from across the country would journey to Oregon to cheat their states laws. Elsewhere in the Netherlands, euthanasia is commonplace as stated by Pieter Admiraal, “Patients in the Netherlands know that they may ask for euthanasia the moment they judge their suffering to be unbearable.” More specifically in North America Sue Roderiguez (1993), Austin Bactable (May 6, 1996), Noel David Early (January 15, 1997), and Jo Roman (June 10, 1979) attest to the fact that although euthanasia is not always legal, it still happens, and saved these four people and their families the damage caused by terminal illness. In Quebec, a recent Supreme Court decision to grant a woman by the name of Nancy B. permission to cease respirator use at her choosing, effectively committing euthanasia was made. Moreover, although no actual referendum has been taken on the subject, in a Gallup Canada poll taken in 1995 Canadians were found to support euthanasia by a staggering seventy-six percent (76%). Why a bill making euthanasia legal based on these results has not been argued shows exactly how undemocratic our country is.
After all is considered, the underlining issue remains. The choice is not for society to ban, religious groups to condemn, or anyone to judge. It is the right of each person to decide for themselves if euthanasia is the right thing to do, and it is not for anyone else, no matter what, to interfere with that person’s decision. The fact remains that it is their life and the constitution guarantees them their choice, regardless of state influence or religious strong-arming. Euthanasia does have benefits, helping many families to cope with losing a loved one, and saving money to both the family and health care system. Let’s also not forget that in some places euthanasia has been accepted legally, and in Canada’s case it has been overwhelmingly ethically accepted. All we can to is educate and support them regardless of their choice, be it to suffer the pain, or to leave our world, it is their choice.